CES 2015: Here's everything you need to know

Don't let the biggest technology show of the year take you by surprise. CES 2015 starts right after the new year, and CNET will be there in force to show you every new device and technology.

Every year, while much of the world is wrapping gifts or feasting, the entire tech industry spends the holiday season planning for CES. This year, we started even earlier.

Here's how it plays out: the world's biggest tech trade show opens to the public on January 6, but journalists and exhibitors arrive much, much earlier. We set up shop as early as January 2, ringing in the new year by reporting on every new product and every new idea from the first major tech meeting of the minds in 2015. We'll broadcast live from the CNET main stage in Las Vegas, bringing you analysis, panels, celebrities -- and all of it in plain English with a heaping side of live blogs. No number of head colds or snowstorms will stop us from delivering everything you need to know from the show.

What matters at CES 2015

In years past, CES kicked off the year with a focus on home theater, and new TVs dominated the most exciting announcements. True to form, CES 2015 will trot out plenty of giant, dazzling screens, most of the 4K TVs with prices finally low enough for people like you and me to be able to afford them. Less flashy but necessary for 4K to take off, 4K content will show its face at CES -- maybe even 4K Blu-ray players if we're very lucky. With Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube now playing a few content titles in 4K resolutions, this may be the year the technology catches on in a big way. (And yes, there may be an 8K TV or two -- just for over-the-top fun -- but we've seen those before.)

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This year, CNET will build out a second stage at Tech West where we'll take pitches from smaller companies interested in landing a video interview about their products. CNET

But TVs no longer dominate CES. This year, we expect the focus to aggressively shift to technologies you probably don't even own yet: drones, wearables, and even more Internet of Things. There's so much to come in these categories, in fact, that there's a new emphasis on a new venue for CES: Tech West, the show floor that the Consumer Electronics Association has built out at the Sands Convention Center, about 1.5 miles from the Las Vegas Convention Center (aka "Tech East") where the bulk of CES usually takes place.

Tech West: A new way to share and discover

Tech West this year houses Eureka Park, where startups convene to show their wares, but this year, bigger companies will accompany the upstarts. Bosch and Whirlpool will exhibit connected home products, and FitBit, UnderArmour, and other wearable makers will set up shop in Tech West. In fact, we expect the first Apple HomeKit product to show up at CES 2015 from iDevices.

To take Tech West to the next level, CNET will build a second broadcast stage on the show floor, but this one will be different from the (giant!) main stage CNET hosts at Tech East. We'll staff the CNET Tech West stage with editors ready to hear pitches from up-and-coming exhibitors. If we choose your product, we'll shoot a video of that product to be published on CNET.com. (Here's more on submitting your product at Tech West.)

We saw a lot of new wearables last year at CES, but the field will widen in 2015. Fitness trackers and smartwatches will certainly all add heart-rate sensing, but we'll also see inventive new sensors embedded in jewelry and even in clothing. From heart monitors to UV sensors, every wearable brand that's not Apple will try to stake a claim before the Apple Watch hits sometime next year.

New virtual realities

Whether you're ready or not, this will be the year virtual reality goes very big at CES. We expect to see more from Oculus, more chatter about the Samsung Gear VR and likely others either designing new VR hardware or working on content experiences for the early headsets already available as previews. ( Oculus did early demos of the Rift at CES in 2013 to much fanfare and excitement. This show has been very good for the Oculus team.)

In fact, we're so bullish on VR that the topic will dominate CNET's annual Next Big Thing Supersession, live on Tuesday, January 6 from room N257 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. CNET editors at large Brian Cooley and Tim Stevens will sit down with titans of the virtual-reality industry -- Jens Christensen, CEO of Jaunt; Jeri Ellsworth, co-founder and chief hardware engineer of Technical Illusions; Palmer Lucky, founder and CEO of Oculus VR and Ray Velez, global CTO of Razorfish -- to discuss how both virtual reality and augmented reality will change and grow in 2015. Get ready to feed your minds.

Can't make Next Big Thing? You're in luck: CNET will host two more illuminating panels. The first is on Wednesday, January 7, at 10:15 a.m. in room N253 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. You'll need to show up in person to join me and executives from the smart-home market along with CNET's very own Executive Editor Rich Brown to discuss what will drive mass adoption in this growing field. We'll speak with a boisterous crew, including Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO, Quirky; Alex Hawkinson, founder and CEO, SmartThings; Arthur Orduna, SVP and chief innovation officer, ADT; Linden Tibbets, CEO, IFTTT; and Amanda Parrilli, director of strategic business development, The Home Depot.

Later that afternoon, at 1 p.m. in the same room, Tim Stevens will moderate a panel discussing 4G and the connected car. Is it safe? What's next? Join Tim in conversation with Dan Butler, executive director, Ford; Tim Nixon, CTO, GM Connected Consumer; Tom Gebhardt, president, Panasonic; and Jeff Klei, president, Continental. It's going to be fascinating.

The automotive appetizer

January packs a one-two punch for automotive events. CES kicks it off, then the CNET Car Tech team travels straight to Detroit to cover the Detroit auto show. Increasingly, car companies come to CES first to talk tech and to share the hundreds of ways in which today's cars must work as safe and seamless platforms for the apps we carry and use every day. Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, VW and Audi will give presentations at the show, some even launching new car concepts there. Will the big manufacturers tell us even more about how they'll handle Android Auto and Apple Car Play? Stay tuned.

Other than new wireless audio everywhere, from wireless headphones to speakers to whole-home audio systems, and apart from the possibility of PC vendors ramping up for Broadwell chips and Windows 10, there's one more thing we're looking forward to covering. Actually, it's 50 more things: all the undiscovered and unexpected treasures to be announced at CES 2015.

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